Moscow: The Israeli regime said on Thursday it would not halt strikes on Syria but would do more to “deconflict” them with Russian forces, after Moscow accused it of “irresponsible and unfriendly actions” that led to Syrian ground fire mistakenly downing a Russian plane.
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin initially described the downing as “tragic chance”, Moscow has made its anger clear. “Moscow views as irresponsible and unfriendly actions of Israeli Air Force, which exposed Russian Il-20 aircraft to danger and led to death of 15 servicemen,” the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv said on Twitter in English, adding that Russia would “take all necessary measures to eliminate threat to life and security of our military fighting against terrorism”.
The regime in Tel Aviv has vowed to stop its arch-foe Iran, which backs the Al Assad regime, from entrenching itself militarily in Syria. Earlier this month, it acknowledged having carried out more than 200 strikes in Syria over the past 18 months, mainly against Iranian targets.
Also on Thursday, the Kremlin said on Thursday it had received a telegram from Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in which he expressed his condolences over a Russian military plane being downed near Syria earlier this week, the Interfax news agency reported. “This unfortunate incident was the result of Israeli arrogance and depravity,” Al Assad said. “We are determined that such tragic events will sway neither you nor us from continuing the fight against terrorism.”
Meanwhile, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia said Wednesday his group may reduce the number of its fighters in Syria because of an easing of the conflict, particularly after a recent Russian-Turkey agreement that prevented an offensive on the last rebel stronghold.
Hassan Nasrallah welcomed the agreement signed on Monday in Sochi, Russia, calling it a “step on the road to making a political solution possible”.
It “will take Syria in the next weeks and months to a new phase,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech to supporters. He said the deal’s success will depend whether it’s properly implemented.
The deal calls for a demilitarised area around the Idlib enclave separating Syrian regime forces and opposition fighters. It also calls for removing radical groups as well as heavy weapons from the area and for coordinated Russian and Turkish patrols to monitor the agreement.
Nasrallah said despite the calm prevailing on different front lines in Syria, his group will keep its fighters there.
“The calm on the front lines may naturally affect the number of forces present” as responsibilities and threat levels change, Nasrallah said. However, he added, “We are staying even after the settlement in Idlib.”
Nasrallah said Hezbollah’s presence is linked to “the needs and approval” of the Syrian regime.
“Like I said before no one can force us to leave Syria,” he said.
Hezbollah has had thousands of fighters fighting alongside the Syrian regime forces since the early days of the civil war that erupted in 2011.
Commenting on the Israeli strikes in Latakia late Monday, Nasrallah denied the target was a shipment of weapons heading to Hezbollah.
Israel’s army said Tuesday that strikes a day earlier targeted a Syrian facility that was about to transfer weapons to Hezbollah on behalf of Iran, another ally of the Syrian regime.